The recent downgrading of our Civil Aviation Authority by the US is not a piece of shocking news. If our local departments and processes are measured against international standards, many others will also fail the test. We are a second-rate country in many respects and fast sliding into the backwater of development. Zaid Ibrahim specially for the Free Malaysia Today.
Eighty years ago, China suffered from famine and a debilitating civil war. Today, it is the second most powerful economy in the world. In the late 1960s, President Park Chung Hee of South Korea came to learn from us how to set up an economic panning unit. Today, South Korea has an advanced economy and it is far richer than we are. Years ago, Singapore was on the same level as we were. Today, it is a success story for every nation to emulate.
We struggle to pay a minimum wage of RM1,050 when other countries are paying a living wage. A graduate in 1979 earned RM1,500 a month. Fifty years on, we still pay fresh graduates the same amount. Many are in fact unemployed.
What are we proud of, then? Our third national car, perhaps.
In short, we are not making much progress. As a country, we have starkly underachieved and underperformed. Our leaders are, with some exceptions, generally mediocre and overrated, which is why we cannot perform at our optimum.
The only way we can move forward is to abandon the ideologies, methods and ideas that have failed us in the past.
Here are some things to consider:
1. We can start reducing politicking to a more acceptable level. The present intense bickering is not just between the government party and the opposition but within the ruling coalition itself. There is just no time to do good work. Today, the amount of time taken up by party betrayal, internal sabotage, infighting and shouting at one another is at a record level. People suffer. Why the prime minister allows and even encourages these things to continue is a mystery to many. The country is suffering, and everyone can see it clearly.
2. The country needs a unity government, now more than in 1974. The party in government must be willing to share power with other large parties in the peninsula and from Sarawak so that there is a wider pool of talent to pick from, not to mention less politicking. Picking loyalists to be ministers is the trick of the old-style authoritarian regime. The world has changed and our ministers must be good enough to transform the government.
3. Only good leaders can transform the country. The rejection by Abdul Hadi Awang of a “backdoor government” is just bravado; he will surely accept it if invited. There is nothing wrong with inviting those who are in the opposition to be part of the government if it will reduce politicking and ensure good ministers in the Cabinet. Today, the world is witnessing a bizarre experiment in Malaysia: apparently, the prime minister-in-waiting is left out in the cold, out of the administration altogether, when the opposite should happen.
4. We are not able to progress because we are still following the failed policies and ideas of the past. If we had followed successful policies adopted by advanced countries, we would be comparable to Switzerland right now. Somehow we think we can brew a success formula unique to us. That’s why we continue to fail. We ignore the simple fact that success, with some imagination, can be replicated.
5. The failed policies of the last 30 years are many. They are all due to false and mistaken ideologies. The New Economic Policy has been unable to give us a highly skilled and competitive workforce. Our Malay-first policy became a “cronies-first policy” and that is why we have failed as a country. The policy failed to instil ethics in government because it opened the door to unmitigated greed.
6. Our economic policies are dictated by the billionaires club and misguided privatisation plans and so cannot solve the problems of poverty and inequality. When money is a priority, the green lungs of Kiara can be forgotten and rare earths are no threat to the environment.
The latest Shared Prosperity Vision is a rushed job. Coupled with bad management, the outcome will be more of the same. Workers will still earn a low salary and bosses will continue to reap millions of ringgit. Basic facilities like housing and public transport will continue to be scarce, especially in smaller districts. The assets of the government will continue to be sold to friendly parties. These are things that will, yet again, prevent us from being a world-class country.
7. Our experiment to infuse the administration with religious values has become a nightmare. Instead of religious values, we have infused the administration of the country with political apparatchiks with a definite ideology of making Malaysia a Wahabbi country. Political Islam has not faded but continues to rise, and this has contributed to the failure of the country. Religion is supposed to unite, but in Malaysia, it divides and causes serious dissension among citizens of various communities.
Yet we persist with using religion in politics. We allow child marriages to continue because our religious leaders are afraid of the outdated preachers in the religious departments. We spend RM700 million a year paying their salaries to preach wrong and harmful ideas when we could spend that money on science and technology. How can we progress?
If we want to steer the country forward, the failed policies of the past need to be discarded. One idea that is gaining strength is that if Malays/Muslims unite, all problems will be solved. If that were so, the Arabs would be the most powerful people in the world since they share the same ethnicity, language and religion. Yet they could not even defend a small strip of settlement called the West Bank.
The government must be sincere about helping the various communities and not keep them apart. It must be sincere about helping the underclass. Our level of iniquity is no longer acceptable. It is cruel to deliberately set the communities apart, only to come and help them with sweet election promises to secure their support.
Don’t be hypocritical about it. Vernacular education is a good example of hypocrisy. If the government believes it is useful, then give vernacular schools all support, including financial assistance. Make them comparable and even better than normal schools. Vernacular education must be capable of producing a capable, quality workforce. Otherwise, close them down. To continue giving handouts before elections is doing a great disservice to the schools and to the pupils, who have no access to good facilities and good teachers.
Maybe the answer to all of the above issues will be found when the door to the government is opened to all major parties, and a truly united government becomes a reality.
The people are tired. Give them something to cheer about.
Zaid Ibrahim is a former law minister.